West Coast Sick Line
The Road to Billinge Hill
1st August 2014
When it comes around to album of the year it will be a straight up fight between Kill Pretty‘s “Bubblegum Now!”, which hopefully will be out in September, and this third outing from West Coast Sick Line.
And yes I know that there have been plenty of great albums this year already, and no doubt there will be a lot more to come, but I am convinced that nothing else will come close to what we have here, and the aforementioned planned double CD set from the Pretty ones.
We’ve been building up to this of course, the progress from “Hope You All Have Nightmares, Except Kirsty” through “Our Name on the Door” to this collection of songs is evident and immensely pleasing. The trade mark Dusty Moonan tunes are here, but Stacey Bates is clearly a more potent force in the partnership this time around. The writing has moved up a notch, and as usual it’s lyrically excellent with the usual balance of wry humour, intemperate ranting and sardonic observation.
There is a sort of concept thing going on here, a journey if you would, but it’s not a linear tale, more a series of observations. There is a beginning, a middle, and an end but they aren’t obvious, a post modernist take on a love story perhaps?
The journey starts with a train announcement from Colwyn Bay station mapping out a journey east to Greater Manchester – the drums kick off in tribal style and we are off with a guitar riff in Knack territory with Moonan venting through filtered vocals. A great opener. The short “Keep Her Talking” with its call and response between Dusty and Stacey is a breathtakingly glam-tastic slice of pop-punk. With “You Again” Bates is to the fore with a stunning vocal performance via a tune which echoes Dusty Springfield, an amazing song which places North Wales kitchen sink drama in a para-Motown world – Moonan plays clever little musical tricks, dropping referential hints, the song moves from moody UK soul to straight out rock and roll with effortless wonder, it’s like he has extracted the high points of UK pop over the last 40 years and distilled them in an impossibly wonderful song. Imagine Burt Bacharach co-writing a tune with Godley & Creme with orchestration by John Barry.
“Polygramme Video” is repetitive in an ear-worm sense, Dusty looks back to the days of VHS/Betamax wars with a caustic wit.
“Into Ya Home” is a typical Moonan rant focusing on some sort of tirade against the middle classes – insanely catchy glam-rock hooks, pumping beats and funky bass, with some sexy uttering from Stacey, make this rather special.
“Wasp In The Car” is pure genius – echoing Roy Wood at his best – the Beatles come to mind as well – both the lyrics and the melodic development is mesmerising taking 60s pop hooks and placing them very firmly in the 21st century. Compare this say with Elbow and their recent releases and this frankly wipes the floor with the Bury misanthropes.
The second half of the album gets a little more experimental and varied- “Harry Christ” is an acoustic led exploration – I wasn’t sure about it at first but it grows on repeat plays into an impressive tour de force.
“Be The Sunrider” deals with the myth that “Blade Runner” the film was filmed at Stanlow Power Station, “Roundabouts of Birchwood” gets into rock and roll/jive territory no doubt will sound great live, and concludes with a self-deprecating comment.
The last ten minutes of the album are breath-taking – the epic “Bubonic Church” is a triumph of light and shade – with a catchy refrain builds into a crescendo chorus. They say you should always leave them wanting more and closing track “She Reads Subtitles Aloud” certainly does the trick. Starting with a basic guitar line and matching vocals it develops into a catchy pop/rock tune, which then morphs into a piece of experimental word play and then resolves in a superb coda. If you aren’t immediately pressing the repeat play button on this one then I despair of you!
If you want a comparison or two lets say Todd Rundgren at his most inventive, 10CC at their height and in terms of structure and content, but not necessarily sound, I guess i’m looking at something like The Go-Betweens “Tallulah” or “Hex Enduction Hour” by The Fall. There is real genius at work here and you need to listen.
And here is a virtual interview conducted via cyberspace with Dusty about the album…..
So, the third album – what were you hoping to achieve?
This was supposed to be our second album. However, the guys didn’t like the idea at the time. In retrospect, they were right as ‘Our name on the door’ really did depict where we were. Getting drunk and having fun. The Pop element of it kicked down doors and introduced us to an audience we may never have got if we went straight into a concept album at that point. ‘Kirsty’ has a vague theme and I wanted ‘Our Name’ to do too, but it didn’t and that’s just the way it went. But I didn’t want another Pop album this time. If we tried to do stuff like ‘The North’ or ‘431’ again it would have felt like we were forcing it.
States (Stacey Bates) is more of a partner in this release – was that deliberate?
States being more involved was totally deliberate. There have been so many occasions where I have listened to the previous two albums and wished she sang more. Ever since I came back from Glasgow three years ago she has been the only constant when everyone else has come and gone. I really wanted her to take the lead on some from the start, but it’s difficult, as I write impulsively. It was a happy accident that the parts she sung on sound like they were written for her as she does such a great job, “You Again”, which I think she could have written herself. One of my favourite aspects of Billinge is States being involved so much.
Is it a concept album? What’s the underlying message.
The concept initially came about because I’ve been accused of always writing in character. I find it’s a good disclaimer for when I write something a bit lewd. I still do on this album, but much of it is from personal experience. Even stuff like family troubles. Some of the lyrics are uncomfortably personal, but I lighten them up with humor so they sound more flippant. It kind of freaked me out a bit when I got too close.
My whole world until the age of about 22 was Colwyn Bay to Wigan and all in between. The fictional part comes in the form of the characters in the story. It’s based on a teenage love lost when the girl moves to Billinge leaving the main protagonist in Colwyn Bay. Some of it is based on real relationships where you mould them all into one, then its part road story about getting to Billinge by any means to rekindle the love that died 20 years before.
There is a strong 60s feel on some tracks – do you agree?
Yeah, I agree. A bit 70’s too. I’m unsure if some of that comes from the players. Like Dragan’s drums or Mark’s Piano. Some of the nervous energy that dominated the previous two albums was gone and I think the songs are more crafted. I hate that term ‘Crafted’, makes me sound like a twat. But the songs rely more on dynamics and emotion, rather than fun jams. I possibly wanted to conform on the previous album, but it was important that this album sounded exactly how I felt. A journey we can take the listener on. Pleasing anyone was the last thing on my mind in regards to how commercial the songs were. I thought we had enough pop songs on the previous album, so we could please ourselves this time. If any of them sound like singles, that’s fantastic, but it wasn’t deliberate. I think it’s more focused as a result and stands up more as a complete album.
What is Bubonic Church about?
Haha. It was originally the opening track and the story was supposed to start off with a murder. Inspired by Raymond Pettibon’s artwork on Sonic Youth’s ‘Goo’ of Hindley & Smith. Then the two characters ran off to Billinge. I was talked out of that idea by States, so I came up with the love story. That’s why ‘Bubonic ‘and ‘Into Ya Home’ sound out of context, lyrically. They are mainly there as I thought they were strong songs. Actually, the folks at German Shepherd talked me into putting “Into Ya Home” on the album. I mean, some of those psychedelic road movies don’t even have a beginning, middle or an end. It has all of them. So the narrative is a lot clearer than some of that stuff.
You are rehearsing the live band at the moment – gigs soon?
We’ve been rehearsing for about two months and we’re just about ready. Got an amazing rhythm section in Nathan & Richie as well as States shocking us all with how quickly she’s picked up the keys. We’ve worked on making the songs more of a performance, so we’ve changed a few things around. One thing is for sure, you won’t be seeing your average shoe gazers when you come to see us.